Opera owes much to Italian culture, but you might be hard pressed to find young, talented Italian Americans carrying the torch in large numbers these days. So it’s a good thing soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine has stepped up. At the tender age of 33, she’s turning heads for her work with the Sante Fe Opera, the Chicago Opera Theater and the Utah Opera — where Opera News praised her portrayal of Susanna in “Le Nozze di Figaro” as “light, flexible and vibrant — well suited to the part of a scheming maid and romantic ing?nue.”
“I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a family that absolutely loves music,” says Guarrine, a Peoria, Ill. native who comes from Neapolitan lineage on her mother’s side and Sicilian roots on her father’s side. “I remember my mom playing me Anna Moffo’s ‘La Bellissima’ album when I was in school, and I tried to sing everything along with the recording in my living room. But it was Rossini, ‘Una voce poco fa’ and ‘Tanti affetti,’ that inspired me and helped me identify that I was a coloratura soprano. My voice wrapped itself around the vocal acrobatics fairly quickly, and I knew I’d found my gift.”
Guarrine received vocal scholarships from Italian-American arts competitions in Chicago and Bloomington, and ample inspiration from her parents, who live in Chicago. “They’re both extremely gifted musicians,” she says. “My mom is a church organist in three different parishes and my dad is a cantor. My earliest musical memories are of being hoisted into my dad’s arms while he sang lead at Mass, and I still sing lead with my parents whenever I’m home.”
Of course, a budding career means that Guarrine’s increasingly on the road. After finishing her doctorate in voice from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Guarrine obtained New York management in 2007 and has been working as a professional opera singer ever since. This season has included debuts at the Los Angeles Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Austin Lyric Opera and Fort Worth Opera.
That established, Guarrine respects the time it takes for opera singers to hit their peak. “The operatic voice needs time to mature, and I feel I’m beginning to reap the benefits of all those long years of study,” she says. “Last season, I sang the highest role I’ve ever performed, Olympia in the ‘Tales of Hoffmann.’ I never thought I would have been singing that role when I was in school!” Meanwhile, Guarrine continues to take vocal lessons and work on her languages. Besides Italian, “I’ve performed in German, French, English, Latin and Spanish.”
Like so many before her, Guarrine harbors dreams of singing at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Until that day, she has at least one highlight to anticipate: reprising her favorite role of Susanna in “Figaro” twice next season.
“I believe first and foremost that a singer must sing beautifully,” she says, “to produce a gorgeous sound that resonates to the back of the hall and touches the audience, even in the last seats.”